Instagram in the wild:

social media representations & Wilderness Discourses


Nature and outdoor recreation landscapes are frequently presented as spaces primarily reserved for privileged, white, able-bodied men to escape the city and participate in adventure-based activities. Such representations—wild, rugged and suited for highly skilled adventurists—are reinforced by traditional media representations, which further contribute to a narrow and exclusionary nature and outdoor recreation discourse. These images and associated imaginaries can discourage participation by individuals whose knowledge systems and bodies do not conform to culturally accepted ideas of wilderness recreation. This paper argues that social media technologies may offer individuals who are not traditionally represented in outdoor recreation magazines and advertisements with a forum to become active producers rather than simply passive consumers of outdoor culture and media. I suggest that, through social media, it is possible for individuals to subvert dominant narratives of the outdoors, shifting our understanding of what experiencing nature looks like and what kinds of people belong in those settings. This study uses the photo-sharing platform Instagram to explore a) forms of outdoor representation on Instagram, b) what Instagram images, captions and comments can tell us about how different communities understand nature and their relationship to it, and c) whether these representations on Instagram have the potential to shift cultural ideas about nature and outdoor recreation in more diverse and inclusive directions, and contribute towards disrupting the problematic nature/culture dualism on which Western constructions of nature are based.